NAIROBI, Dec 18 (AlertNet) - A wave of bombings, shootings and hand-grenade attacks blamed on Somali militants prompted Kenya on Tuesday to order all refugees and asylum seekers to report to two camps and to bar them from living in towns.
Kenya has experienced a spate of violent attacks, mostly in the capital and close to the Somali border, since it sent soldiers into its anarchic neighbor last year to drive out Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks, which have contributed to rising insecurity, a growing concern as the region's biggest economy prepares for a presidential election next March, the first poll since a contested 2007 vote which unleashed nationwide ethnic violence.
Badu Katelo, the acting commissioner for refugee affairs in Kenya, said the decision was taken by the government following the attacks by people who are thought to be from Somalia.
The directive would affect more than 100,000 refugees of various nationalities living in urban areas, he said.
"The people who are perpetuating these attacks live in refugee populations... Kenyans are seeing this group of people are a kind of threat to their lives."
Under the new directive, Somali refugees are required to be housed at Dadaab, while all other refugees must reside at Kakuma, a camp located near Kenya's frontier with South Sudan.
In the past, those who could support themselves or were in need of specialized education or medical care were allowed to live in urban areas.
U.N. AGENCY EXPRESSES CONCERN
The United Nations refugee agency spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera raised concerns over the rights of the refugees.
"We are trying to come up with a position so that the rights of refugees are respected and the concerns of the government addressed," he said.
One person was injured in an grenade attack on Sunday, days after two separate strikes hit the Eastleigh area last week.
Tensions have risen in the past two months in Eastleigh, a part of Nairobi commonly dubbed "Little Mogadishu" because of its large Somali population. In November, street battles erupted between Kenyans and ethnic Somalis in Eastleigh after a bomb on a minibus killed seven people in the area.
Some of Eastleigh's population are refugees but many others are Kenyans of Somali ethnicity and illegal migrants.
Kenya hosts over 525,000 Somali refugees, the majority living in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, close to the Somali border. The camp is severely overcrowded, hosting four times the population it was built for.
Wasia Masitsa, a lawyer working with Kituo cha Sheria, which provides legal aid to refugees in Eastleigh, said police were arbitrarily arresting people of Somali origin.
"We have a lot of Kenyan Somalis who have even been victims of police swoops and other forms of violations," he said.
"The government has not been able to establish a very credible nexus between the presence of refugees in the city and the insecurity," he said.
(AlertNet is a humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
(Editing by James Macharia and Michael Roddy)